You know how sometimes, when you read fanfiction, you get kind of annoyed because the story is focusing on two completely random characters whose hijinks will have zero impact on the overarching plot of the saga? Anyone? Just me?
That was Dark Disciple for me, in a nutshell. I’ve been sitting around for twenty minutes trying to figure out why it bothered me, and that goes a long way towards explaining it. Which is a shame, because the plot of Dark Disciple is just similar enough to the story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall that it provokes comparison – and let’s be honest, no story ever compares unfavorably to the Star Wars prequels.
Author: Christie Golden
Timeline: The first of the tie-ins. Between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Set during The Clone Wars.
Publisher: LucasBooks, July 7, 2015
Summary: Based off unaired Clone Wars episodes, Dark Disciple chronicles the struggles of happy-go-lucky jedi, Quinlan Vos, as he attempts to do the most un-jedi thing possible – kill another being in cold blood. The Jedi Council is determined that Count Dooku should die, and sooner rather than later. Vos must team up with Dooku’s former acolyte, Asajj Ventress, who hates the Jedi nearly as much as she despises her old master. Together, they might be able to bring Dooku down – if their own darkness and desire doesn’t destroy them first.
How much of a Star Wars Nerd to I need to be to get this? Let’s be honest, if you’re looking at a review of a tie-in novel, you’re probably all the nerd you need to be. However, I started this book before watching any of the Clone Wars series, and it’s been a looooooong time since the prequels. I had no trouble following the story or getting into the world.
My first impressions of Dark Disciple were quite strong. First, that cover. Somebody get that cover artist a big, fat raise. That cover doesn’t scream badass, no. It comes up, it punches you in the face, it leaves you in the mud like a badass anything ought to do. I love that cover. Second, the audio. I listened to Dark Disciple via audible, since I have a subscription and my credits have racked up. The audio production was obviously put together with a lot of care, and at first I really enjoyed it (yes, only at first. We’ll get back to that).
The first half of the book seemed to make good on the promise of the cover and the back blurb. The romance between Vos and Ventress didn’t really excite me – it’s not anything new, to be honest – but the action was exciting, they had something compelling to move them forward, and the edge that Vos walked, between Light and Dark, made for a tense read. It was hard for me not to compare this part of Dark Disciple to the prequels’ love story between Anakin and Padme. And I didn’t really hold back, if I’m honest. I felt that Christie Golden provided a much more compelling, entertaining and believable story of a man in love and in danger with the Dark Side.
Dark Disciple takes a major turn about halfway through, and things started to unravel from there for me. First off, the plot. It descended into convoluted territory, and featured such devices as, “lovers have the can we/can’t we argument ten thousand times rather than just MAKING A FREAKING DECISION and sticking to their guns;” and a personal favorite of mine, “I can’t tell you this Big Secret because that would resolve the plot of the book in ten pages and besides, this will give us more tension.” The sad part is, I think Dark Disciple would have had a lot more tension if we’d known the Big Secret before the very last chapter.
The second half was where the audio started to get on my nerves as well. Dark Disciple is narrated by Marc Thompson, and while he’s mostly spot on with his accents and imitations, at times he got…a little too into the performance. Dark Disciple is told in the third person, from a fairly close point of view; i.e., we should be right up inside the main characters’ minds, feeling what they’re feeling. All the same, not every sentence has to be tense with emotion. Sometimes I felt like Thompson wanted to convey every nuance of How Exciting! It was! For Vos to blow his nose! Um, no thanks. Also, the sound effects. They were mostly all right, but in the lengthier scenes, the sound effects were looped on repeat. Once I heard that, I could never unhear it.
My last issue with Dark Disciple is something I feel kind of bad for. And this should not be a reflection on Christie Golden – I have no idea how much input she had on the story, and I don’t have much experience writing tie-in fiction. However, as the novel had originally been planned as part of the Clone Wars series, I imagine her guidelines were pretty strict.
My problem is that I went into the book knowing the outcome of the main plot. I saw both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and I remember (ish) how they turned out. So even when I was having the most fun listening, a little voice kept whispering, as though millions of critics cried out in irritation and were suddenly silenced: “So what?” Everything that happened in the story would ultimately be pointless. Because the main characters of Star Wars are not Vos and Ventress, as much as they may enjoy their fifteen minutes of tie-in fame, the saga is not their saga, and the impact of their story will be light. At the same time, it set itself up for such epic proportions that it was hard for me as a reader not to expect grand things of it. And let’s be honest, Vos and Ventress make a much more kickass team than Anakin and, well, anybody. Oh well. At least he barely featured.
This series part of my grand plan to review the Star Wars tie in novels. At the moment I’m just doing the adult novels, and just the ones for the new canon. Questions, comments, polite rants and offers to join the Dark Side welcome.